Once thought of as something pursued by hard men in back street gyms, boxing is now one of the fastest growing sports in the UK – not to mention here in Kent
If you walk into one of the 800 (and growing) gyms affiliated to England Boxing you’re probably in for a surprise. Long gone are the days they were dominated only by testosterone-fuelled displays of speed and power and an atmosphere intimidating to all but the initiated.
Boxing today is a sport that transcends gender, class and stereotype. In fact, 140,000 of us put on our gloves every week.
And with a reported 20% increase (even higher among certain demographics) in recent years – as well as notable British achievements on the amateur, Olympic and professional stages – its success is as impressive as a lightening jab or hook delivered with the perfect blend of speed and precision.
But what exactly is behind a growth in participation of which some sports should be jealous – not to mention the increasing attraction among those not traditionally thought of as forming part of the boxing community?
“Well for a start don’t let anyone tell you the power and influence of Olympic success is questionable,” says Paul Porter, Chief Executive of England Boxing and someone who has been around the sport for more than three decades – since a 10-year-old at Enfield Boxing Club to be precise.
“In Athens in 2004 we had one qualifier and one medal (Amir Khan, for the record). By London 2012 that was 10 qualifiers with five medals and, while boxing has always had great success in engaging what others call the ‘hard to reach’, it’s no longer that clearly defined.
“Women are increasingly a key part of the sport, university boxing is popular and white collar (aimed at professionals) is another sign of how boxing continues to develop,” adds Paul.
Packing a punch
It is, however, a sport that has not been without concerns over safety, but, as Avoen Perryman, England Boxing’s Club Support Officer for the South East is quick to emphasise, it’s extremely well regulated and safe.
England Boxing, which represents the sport at amateur and Olympic levels, carries out annual and pre-contest medicals, while each of its clubs has a welfare officer responsible for safeguarding the under-18s. To what does Avoen attribute a seriously impressive rise in interest and participation at which certain sports can only marvel?
“It’s a combination of things, from the Olympics, a significant uplift in funding from Sport England since London 2012 and more boxing clubs really upping their game. But the challenge is keeping people once they’ve shown an interest and that’s where the staff and the army of volunteers is so crucial,” says Avoen.
Boxing is an adrenaline-fuelled activity and that, combined with increasing interest in combat sports – including things such as MMA (Mixed Martial Arts) and Muay Thai (Thai kickboxing) – seems to be a key factor in its growing appeal. It’s also noted for fostering personal qualities.
“This is a tough sport and a solitary one so it tends to engender principles of respect, fairness and support for others. You’ll often find boxing clubs have a highly developed sense of community,” says Paul Porter, something Avoen Perryman also sees in his work.
“Boxing tests your mettle and requires a real mix of discipline, dedication and focus. But it’s also excellent for building confidence, as a release valve for stress and for honing personal qualities useful in other aspects of life,” says Avoen.
“Whether you want to use it as one of the very best ways to improve fitness or have wider ambitions in the ring, many boxing gyms feel like a real family – and that is without question one of the sport’s great attractions.”
Give it a go
According to Jon Grice, a coach at Rusthall and Tunbridge Wells Amateur Boxing Club, one of the most exciting things about the sport’s current golden patch is not just that it’s attracting a wider range of participants than possibly at any time in its history, but that perceptions have changed.
“Our club was founded by Billy Hall who has a great passion for welcoming anyone who’d like to give boxing a go, whether you’d like to take it up seriously or simply use its techniques for fitness,” says Jon, adding that the atmosphere is great with mutual respect and a culture of helping others firmly built into the entire ethos.
Jon has been involved in the sport for more than 15 years (among his achievements is winning the coveted southern counties title twice). His three sons have also been picking up gloves from an early age and Jon is a firm believer in boxing’s power both in and out of the ring.
“This is a fabulous sport – it can be adapted to all levels of fitness and the adrenaline release is quite addictive. But it’s also a sport that requires great discipline, something especially good for teenage boys as it allows also them to de-stress and encourages a healthy lifestyle. It’s far better for them to be in a boxing gym on a Friday night than out in local bars,” adds Jon.
Ladies take to the ring
Forget any notion you may have of boxing being a male-only domain, the latest research from England Boxing shows 21% of participants are women.
Kieran Keddle is a three-time Muay Thai world champion and now one of its most successful and respected trainers. The sport is on course to become an Olympic event having just received provisional recognition from the International Olympic Committee (IOC).
“There is absolutely no doubt Nicola Adams’ terrific success at London 2012 and again last summer in Rio has been a huge factor in bringing more women to the sport,” he says.
“Better funding, female-only boxing projects and the right staff have all been key factors, but what is just as exciting is the number of ladies discovering the broad range of benefits that the sport offers.
“The training environment in boxing is simply one of the very best ways to get fit, shed fat and tone the body but for many girls and women boxing is also a fantastic way to improve self-esteem, build confidence and manage stress,” explains Kieran, whose new gym opened in Bromley last month.
“And because women don’t have the sheer brute force power of men they often tend to be better at learning and developing excellent technique.”
For more information
• You can contact Rusthall and Tunbridge Wells Amateur Boxing Club on 07876 692890.
• Kieran Keddle’s new gym is now open in Bromley. Visit www.doublekgym.com
• The following websites provide information on boxing and details of how to get involved: www.englandboxing.org, www.sported.org.uk, www.kentsport.org and www.sevenoaksboxing.co.uk